Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review – A Remake to Remember

Star Ocean: The Second Story R Review

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is one of the best remakes I’ve ever played. From its polished combat to its lush visuals to its gorgeous sound design, this game has it all. And somehow it manages to make a game from the late 90s feel like a cutting-edge title. I am genuinely in awe of how Square Enix pulled this off.

This game picks up a few decades after Star Ocean: The First Departure left off: far in the future and on a distant planet resembling a fantasy land. Rena Lanford lives quietly in a small village on the fantastical world of Expel. After a mysterious object fell from the sky, Expel has been suffering from mysterious disasters. Prophecies say that a hero bearing a Sword of Light and wearing the garb of a foreign land will come save the people. Claude C. Kenny is an underachieving student at a sci-fi officer’s academy.

When an incident sends Claude to the low-tech planet of Expel, Rena mistakes his advanced weaponry for the sword of light. She decides that he’s the hero sent to save her world from the cataclysms affecting it. Meanwhile, Claude is a lost space traveler doing a very bad job of sticking to the Prime Directive. After a close encounter with a brainwashed friend-turned-monster, she and Claude set out to find the truth and save Expel. And if they can get Claude back home, all the better.

Science Fantasy Done Right

Needless to say, Star Ocean: The Second Story R has two distinct protagonists, Claude and Rena. Each of their storylines focuses on different elements of the game and features different sides of certain scenes. Claude’s storyline focuses more on the game’s sci-fi elements while Rena’s storyline focuses more on the fantasy elements. But whichever POV you’re looking through, this title is a spectacular mix of genres.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R character select screen.

The clash between the fantasy and sci-fi genres forms the core of the Star Ocean franchise. Star Ocean: The Second Story is perhaps the purest example of this. The contrast between Rena, determined to go on an adventure, and Claude, determined to go home, is sharp and always in focus. As the adventure continues, it becomes clear that what’s happening on Expel is far more important than Claude thinks. And Rena is about to realize how large the universe really is.

Both protagonists have their own baggage, especially as it relates to their families. The death of Rena’s father and the knowledge that she’s adopted affect her deeply. Meanwhile, Claude struggles under the pressure of being related to a family of heroes… and the realization that he may never see his home again. All the other party members are optional, but they bring their own struggles to the table. From romantic turmoil to body horror, everyone had something they need to deal with. And if they’re lucky, overcome.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a Great Remake

Star Ocean: The Second Story R has some spectacular sci-fi visuals and vast, sweeping fantasy vistas. The combination of detailed but retro sprites and lush 3D environments works much better than I expected. Even the lighting on the sprites is incredibly immersive. And they’re so expressive. Watching Claude glance away awkwardly while Rena innocently treads on his feelings is very fun.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R town screenshot.

The game offers a ton of customization, including English and Japanese voice acting. There’s also a choice of arranged and original background music and an option to turn the anime-style event art off. However, the new art is so gorgeous and in keeping with the original art style that I don’t see why you’d turn it off. The English voice acting is genuinely wonderful. The cast clearly brought their A-game and it paid off big time. It makes me wish the game was fully-voiced.

Combat is nuanced and fun. Between a variety of upgradeable skills, a customizable arsenal of combat skills, combos, and a bonus gauge. The battle system feels incredibly polished. This made leveling up quick and fun. The downside is that my guest characters tended to be hilariously under leveled when they arrived. The sheer variety of available party members also adds a lot of playstyle variety. And there are even chained battles.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R recruiting Celine.

Also, the camera angles in this title are beautifully cinematic. I do wish you could change the camera angle to see your surroundings outside the world map, though. Navigating around offscreen enemies with the mini-map can be irritating.

So Much to Do

This game feels big. Every NPC has something to say and there are tons of hidden chests to find. Star Ocean: The Second Story R is no Trails game, but frankly, it doesn’t need to be. Not every JRPG needs to infodump for 20 minutes about fantasy finances and geopolitics to make its setting feel real. There are three difficulty levels: Earth, Galaxy, and Universe. They correspond to Easy, Normal, and Hard modes.

Add in the wide variety of Specialty and combination skills, and you have a recipe for a game that feels packed with things to unlock and discover. Speaking of which, if you like item crafting, Star Ocean 2 has you covered. Investing in the crafting system will unlock endgame-level gear early. It’s great.

Star Ocean: The Second Story R Claude screenshot.

This game might be one of the best-designed mini-maps I’ve ever seen in JRPGs. It’s tiny but detailed, easy to ignore but incredibly useful. Sadly, the game’s text display window is a little small. It keeps cutting sentences off halfway through to scroll down. The ability to check the text backlog and voice-acting make up the difference. But the problem is still noticeable.

All in all, Star Ocean: The Second Story R is a great experience. If you have the slightest interest in sci-fi, fantasy, and action RPGs, you owe it to yourself to play it. This remake proves that old games can become new and better than ever.

***Switch code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Engaging story
  • Gorgeous art
  • Slick combat
  • Incredibly immersive

The Bad

  • Camera’s still annoying
  • Text display is too small